Don’t move and no one pees their pants

My unofficially assigned purpose as husband and father –

Remain calm even in the face of teen danger.

One parent almost always assumes that responsibility when their teen enters that frightening stage called learning to drive.  With a 15 year old son who just last week managed to obtain his learner’s permit, cool as a cucumber has become my sole objective.  Not only does Miriam acknowledge my ability to ride in the passenger’s seat without the aid of an adult diaper, Nate endorses me wholeheartedly, almost bows in my presence.  That in itself is bone chillingly eerie.

I earned my credentials a few years ago, when Alyssa (who turns 19 in a few days) was learning to drive.  She refused to get behind the wheel if her mother was within shouting distance of our vehicles.  The arm rests and passenger side dashboard of our family van bore deep and permanent indentations from the labor contraction-esque grip Miriam imposed on them as Alyssa shifted our car’s transmission into DRIVE.  Teaching Alyssa to drive immediately became my job.  Once Alyssa became comfortable behind the wheel, Mir was allowed entry into our vehicles, but only if bound and gagged.

I’m kidding.. sort of.

Alyssa learned well, a careful student who has always exercised good judgement behind the wheel.  Well, maybe not always.  I taught her to drive.  We both have a tendency towards a heavy accelerator foot.  My daughter is either really good at putting on a good poker face in front of me or else she has never been pulled over for any traffic violation, never has had a fender bender.  The girl has earned my confidence by exercising complete, mature responsibility behind the wheel.

I think I have already shared in previous blogs how much riding with my son behind the wheel makes my hair turn grey.

Last Thursday morning, I was privileged to witness this — 20150319_083118That’s the boy taking the written portion of the DMV exam.  His mother nervously texted me the entire time Nate and I were at the DMV.

Is he nervous? (not as much as you are)

What is he doing right now? (taking the test and picking his nose)

Do you think he will pass? (yes.. I think 16 two hour classes should have prepared him)

I am so nervous.  Do I need to call the school to let them know he will be late?  (I would never have guessed.. no, we are going to make it with a few minutes to spare)

He passed.  Missed one question on the test.

Now comes the hard part.  The kid wants to drive all of the time.  I got a good laugh the other evening on my way home from work.  About two blocks from my house, Nate and Miriam passed me going the opposite direction.  Nate had a huge grin, Mir was white as a ghost, her lips tight with fear.  Two minutes after I got home, so did they.  He’s driving with you from now on!

The boy actually had the nerve to ask to drive my six speed manual stick shift home last night — with Miriam in the back seat.  I didn’t bother to answer..  I couldn’t answer through my laughter.

Teaching a boy to drive is so much different than teaching a daughter.  It reminds me of the time when I coached Alyssa’s basketball team and Nate’s basketball team the same year.  The girls did everything their coaches asked, were distraught if they disappointed.  The boys were terriers with no care for what their coaches asked.. because they thought they already knew enough to play the game.   At least in my family, that is the difference in the way they drive.

I am remaining calm.  seriously… I am.

Catch

I miss the days when my son played baseball.  Nate is 15 now, his desire to play baseball finished when he was 13.  It’s not that he quit being a baseball fan, although even that waned for a bit.  He is a fan, if being a Cubs fan counts.  This afternoon I remembered what it was like to come home from work this time of year, my boy waiting for me every day in the driveway with our baseball mitts and a ball, ready for a game of catch.  Every day March through June, from the time he was 5 until 13.

That is what I miss.  Often we would throw a baseball to each other until it was too dark to see.  I taught him how to field a ground ball, the proper way to throw a four seam and a two seam fastball, and countless other little bits of baseball knowledge I had picked up over the years.  The last year Nate played competitive ball, I taught him two ways to throw a knuckleball and a change up.  We both grew strong from all the catch that we played.  At an early age, my son was able to take a hard throw from me, told me to throw it hard, able to catch my throws without flinching.  There was one day where he told me to throw him a real fast one, told me not to worry, and he panicked as the ball came at him head high.  The ball glanced off of his left cheek.  It scared me to death, but Nate dusted himself off, got up and told me to throw him another one.  I was so proud.

I hope he remembers those days the same way I do.

Pop.  Pop.  Pop.  Pop. Pop.

The sound of a baseball meeting glove leather is so satisfying.  I know my neighbors enjoyed hearing it, a few actually coming out with a chair to sit and watch us throw the ball to each other in the street.  Doug, an older man who lives a few doors down, shared his admiration for the attention that I gave to my son, reminiscing about his own days of playing catch with his sons.  J.C., my next door neighbor, came out one evening to hand us tickets for a Cubs game.  Watching us made them smile.

I have my chair ready for the front porch, ready for those days when I can watch someone else enjoying the same game of catch with their son or daughter.  There will be trips to watch my grandkids play ball, I hope.  With an almost 19 year old daughter who is learning to fall in love very quickly, that may not be all that far away.  Occasionally I even dream of donating my time to helping out with the local youth baseball association as a coach or administrator.  Who knows.

What I know is that the gospel of baseball is very important to me, the love of the game instilled in me from the day I was born.  My father’s parents were passionate about the game.  When I chose to run track in the Spring, something I had a gift for, they were very disappointed.  They never came to my track meets, even when I set the school record in the mile/1500 meters as a high school freshman or when  I qualified for the Illinois state track meet in the 800 meters (1:46 for those who want to know) and as anchor for my school’s 3200 meter relay.  But my grandparents came to almost all of my summer baseball games, sure that my defensive talents as an outfielder were outstanding, telling stories about catches I had made and throws until the day they died.  Grandpa and Grandma H lived a short walk from Lanphier park, where we watched countless baseball games, especially when the St. Louis Cardinals AAA team played there.  Satchel Paige had relatives in the area and was often in the stands at Lanphier, sat in front of us at one game and called my grandparents by their first name when he saw them (‘Hank’ and ‘Jessie’ sounded cool coming from him).  The hallway in their small bungalow was decorated with framed autographed pictures of Red Schoendiest, Dal Maxvill, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mike Shannon, Stan Musial, Joaquin Andujar (who played AAA at Lanphier, along with Tommy Herr), Joe Torre, Ted Simmons, Orlando Cepeda.  They gave me albums of pictures they had taken at the ball parks they visited, players like Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose (no autograph), Cesar Geronimo, Kent Tekulve.  When my grandparents died and were shown at their memorial, they wore Cardinal hats and held Cardinal memorabilia.

My grandfather was the youngest of eight brothers, a farm family in Fancy Prairie, Illinois.  The farm house he was raised in was said to be on the county line for three counties — so one could be in three different counties depending on which room of the house they were in.  Grandpa loved to say that there were eight boys in the family so that they could field a family team for the Sunday afternoon baseball games, not so that there were plenty of hands to run their farm.

Baseball is in my blood.  I love it.  There is nothing like the feel of the leather as it leaves my finger tips or the sound as it meets the oiled leather pocket of a baseball glove.  When I played catch with my son, I felt like I was sharing a bit of myself each time I threw the ball to him.

I miss that.

Redbird Doesn’t Miss Me

Redbird was once my best friend, greeting me each day at my dismal work cubicle, a beacon of happiness as he chirped loudly around the office each morning after a St. Louis Cardinals win.  Cub fans despised my red friend in the same way that I adored him, anonymous death threats scribbled in angry letters on my notepad, even murder attempts.  More than once I rescued a barely breathing Redbird as he hung over my desk, a noose tight around his throat.

Then one sorrowful day almost two years ago, Redbird disappeared, kidnapped by desperate Cubs fans at the beginning of October.  I shuffled numbly around the office that day, unsure of how to find my tortured friend, waiting for a ransom note from his captors.  I only had one hint of what had happened to him, a savage scrawl in red across my desk top —

“You will never ever see your loud friend again!”

redbird studA week later, pictures of Redbird on a trolley car in San Francisco were sent to me, then at the Oakland A’s stadium.  Another week passed and Redbird was on a float in a parade in Minnesota, then with beauty queens at a county beauty pageant.  Toronto.  Mardi Gras in New Orleans.  Brazil.  His captors had brainwashed his bird brain.  Redbird looked deliriously happy.

A year ago I lost my job.  I thought I would never hear from Redbird again.  But today, I saw pictures of Redbird on Facebook, frolicking with bikini clad babes, flirting with pretty tour guides, drinking, gambling.  Redbird is living the life I never had.redbirdvegasbikini

He’s a winner.  A product of a baseball culture that produces the best of the best.  Redbird knows how to celebrate, a veteran of many October celebrations.  I know now that he simply is a bird that has flown the nest, happy to have known me, the luckiest bird in the world.  I am happy for him.

I may never see him again.  And if I see him throwing confetti at Wrigley field this October…. I will kill him.

Splash

I am sulking right now.  I am trying to decide what kind of father I am.  At this very moment, I am upstairs doing what I wanted to start ninety minutes ago, which was write three blogs to wind down the weekend.  There have been all kinds of thoughts bouncing around in my head for days, one blog already half written, with no time to write.  Some times that would be a bad thing, but the last few days have been really good, days where the pieces of my marriage have felt like a few have come back together.  Believe me, that is a miracle.  Having no time to write was a good thing.

The last ninety minutes have been what has become typical for my family — the last dregs of a relaxing, peaceful, even healing weekend destroyed by dealing with a teenage son.  If he put the same energy into his schoolwork as he does fighting the responsibility of doing it, he would be an excellent student.  He is bright and intelligent, but won’t do the work.  Three C and four D grades on his Fall semester grade report show that.  So now I am pushing him, no longer taking his word that the necessary work is getting done, and he hates it.  Band is one of the easiest classes in school to get an A in, yet he has an F right now.  What have we been fighting with him to do for the last ninety minutes?  We have been trying to get him to do a 20 minute online sight reading assignment for band, plus another 10 minutes of practice to put into his practice log.

Finally, I said that this lack of caring has got to stop.  The boy looked at me, called me an idiot, then threw a full disposable plastic bottle of water at me.  Without thinking, I caught the bottle with my throwing hand and whipped it back at him, hitting him square in the forehead and covering him with cold water.  He then rushed at me to try to tackle me and I shoved him to the floor.  The kid is as tall as I am and outweighs me by ten pounds.  Then he grabbed the bottle of water, tried to throw what was left on my computer.

Something unusual happened.. instead of protecting Nate, Mir scolded Nate for calling his father an idiot and pulled him into our kitchen, away from me.  She told him I was only telling him something that he needed to hear, was not being mean to him, and he had no reason for what he had done.  It was then that I retreated upstairs.  After the kid tried to tackle me, I could feel that I was angry.  If he came at me again, he was going to get the back of my hand.  I think that was the first time ever that she did not make me the bad guy, supported me.

Mir and I have spent a lot of time together the past few days.  Since Wednesday, we have been car shopping.  Mir hates it.  I relish it, although I don’t like spending a lot of time looking.  But my wife needs time for a notion to sink in, just like it took time to sink in that our eleven year old 160,000 mile van needed to be replaced.  She has been driving it for her job since November, costing a fortune in fuel.  The engine has been making a lot of noise, a timing chain issue.  I have been suggesting she consider replacing the van for months.  Last weekend, she asked me to help her find a car.

2012 VW Passat, light blue, 9000 miles.  We now have two VWs in our stable.

2012 VW Passat, light blue, 9000 miles. We now have two VWs in our stable.

So I did.  We went to four dealers over the course of two days.  Friday, I went to another dealer, put a car on hold that I knew she would like and made an appointment for Saturday afternoon to look at the car together.  She loved it. We negotiated together, went home to discuss what to do, went back and bought the car.  Last night, we went out to dinner to celebrate.  The car is practical, not extravagant, just right.  Mir loves it.  And we did very well together buying it, had a good time.

Despite the fight, the good outweighs the bad…for once.  Might be a good sign.

Tuesday Confessional (or why spaghetti tastes so good)

Snapshot_20150310_1Before I begin writing today’s blog, I need to report that the guy who lives on the block behind my house was just using a hockey stick to sweep the sidewalk in front of his house.  Honestly, truly, I am not making that up.  Hockey fans are weird.

Speaking of weird, I must make a confession.  No, it’s not that, although after going more than ten years without a certain something that most married people experience at least once a week, there are times where even turning to the other side seems better than a cold shower.  No, it’s not that I am a Cubs fan.  I will never, ever, be tempted to go to the dark losing side.  My veins will always run red, as in winning Cardinal red.

This really isn’t that weird or even weird at all, unless you are my wife who indeed thinks that I am very weird for liking what I like.  What is it you say?  Spit it out?

I am a Walking Dead fan.

There.  I said it.

This week’s episode inspired me.  I will never eat spaghetti the same way again.  After the last two weeks, I am very creeped out by the place our heroes and heroines have landed — new Alexandria, where they have cleaned up and are being forced to live among the overly washed.  What I am truly afraid of is that a major character or characters is going to be killed off.  Who will it be?  Tough and vulnerable Daryl, who was just tamed by spaghetti?  Creepy Carol, who just bullied a potential young snitch who was threatening to rat on her, all in the name of cookies?  Hard a@@ed Michonne, whose soft side is beginning to show (and such a nice soft side it is)?  Rick (no way)?  Judith?  Carl?  Glenn?  Maggie?  Sasha?  I will cry myself to sleep should any one of those characters be relegated to worm food status.  Abraham and his girl friend can go, as well as Mister Mullet.

It’s just that important to me.

No, I will not seek professional help, even if a Star Wars or Star Trek fanatic gives me a good reference.

A Father’s Intuition

alyssa with calebThis kid must be a bit serious about my daughter.  It’s more difficult to gauge now, since this relationship is a college romance, not something that is happening under my roof.  So how do I know?  What is it about me that has a keen awareness of my daughter’s feelings, that can be so confident in the intentions her boyfriend has for her?

He sent me a friend request on Facebook.  Yep.  Must be serious.

And it’s interesting.  I live west of Chicago.  His family lives in southern Indiana, not too far from Cincinnati.  All I know about his family is the small bit of information that Alyssa has shared with me, plus what I was able to find out standing in line for three hours to get into a concert with him.  Now I have a way to ‘meet’ his family, seen through the Facebook window.  The picture I posted with this blog is one Alyssa posted on Facebook.. and it’s obvious from the comments his family have made that they approve highly.

So do I.  He is responsible, like my daughter, evidenced by his recent appointment as PA for his dorm next school year — his sophomore year.  Alyssa and Caleb are both music education majors, take classes together, study together.

And Alyssa is bringing him home for Easter.  Hmmmmm.

So much can happen in four years of college.  Who knows what will happen in those four years.  I guess there is always the risk that he will unfriend me….

Seize the Night

“Steve!  Come down stairs right now!”

Miriam was yelling at me from the foot of the stairs, anxiety making her voice quiver.  I could hear her mumbling to herself oh what do I do?  what do I do?  Oh my gosh, the quick shuffle of her feet told me she was pacing in confusion in our down stairs hall, likely the palm of her hand pressed against her forehead.  I rolled over, groggy and not quite awake, wondering if I was dreaming.  The clock on my nightstand said 2:00 AM.

“Hurry!”

“I’ll be right there.”  I replied quietly as I pulled a tee shirt over my head, the one I keep next to my bed, as I stumbled out of our upstairs bedroom, my own hand running through the hair on my temples in an effort to wake myself up.  Besides the shuffling of Miriam’s feet on the laminate in the downstairs hallway, I could hear something else, something that sounded out of place.

Nick, my faithful furry friend, was lying on his side in our hallway, convulsing in the throes of a seizure.  Miriam was in hysterics, murmuring oh my gosh, ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh as I bent over Nick, my hand on his side.  His body was hot and tense, his hindquarters twisted as each leg quivered and shook.  Bloody foam ran from the side of his mouth, eyes glassy, sides heaving as if Nick was struggling to breathe.  There was nothing that could be done, I knew, except wait it out.  I have never seen an animal experience a seizure, but I found my boss in a seizure twice.  Once I even had to crawl under a bathroom stall to rescue him as he had gone into seizure while on the toilet in the mens room, driven forward into the stall door and had cracked his head on the tile floor.  I went to get someone to call an ambulance, then pulled his pants up while waiting for the ambulance to come and kept people from coming into the restroom.  Both instances had told me that you could only wait out a seizure.DSC_0190

I handed Miriam her cell phone, led her to the stairs to sit down, asked her to look up what to do when a dog is having a seizure.  Giving her something to do helped calm her down.  I was calm, but I was scared.  I knew Nick had probably bitten his tongue but seeing his blood was still unsettling, his catatonia eerie.  All I could do was put my hand on him and wait.

The seizure was relatively short, probably five minutes.  What Mir could find on the internet was comforting, basically telling us that multiple seizures or long seizures were reason for concern.  Nick is a Shetland Sheepdog, a collie breed, and seizures are common for collie breeds.  We discussed taking him to an emergency vet, an expensive proposition, deciding we would wait to see how Nick reacted to the seizure.

As the convulsions stopped, Nick began trying to lift his head.  It looked like he was blind, had a bit of paralysis in his hindquarters as he seemed to only be able to move his front legs.  He struggled for a few minutes, eventually able to gain control of his back legs and stand up, then turned towards the wall behind him.  I winced as he walked straight into the wall, stood slowly back up then like a zombie dog began pacing.  He bumped into walls, chairs, got stuck in a corner.  We called to him but he didn’t respond, confused and disoriented.  For fifteen minutes, Nick paced steadily in a circuit through the downstairs hall, kitchen, dining room and living room.  There was nothing we could do but watch, wait, and hope.

Eventually Nick recovered his senses, came to me when I called his name, accepted a few pats on his head, paced a little more, then went to Mir for comfort.  I retrieved an old comforter, laid it on the floor in front of our couch.  Nick collapsed there, accepted my hugs as I laid down next to him.  I slept there for a while with him until the floor became too hard for me to stay asleep.

Nick was back to normal the next morning, dove into a snow drift when I let him out to the back yard.  Today, I became his mortal enemy as the bath torturer, a necessity after the ordeal from Friday night.  Nick hates baths, snaps at me as I pick him up to put him in the tub.  From the way he acted during his bath, he definitely is suffering no ill affects!

I love my beautiful and loving companion.  If he had died Friday night, I would have lost a faithful friend who never withholds affection, his constant cuddling and loyalty something I depend on.  Nick, outside of bath time, is a patient animal, a comfort.  When I lost my job, he was the companion who calmed me.  When I was home recovering from surgeries in 2013, he never left my side.  I was not ready to lose him last Friday night.

Now if the seizures had only made him lose his voice….

How many dogs do you know that are patient enough to read drivel like that?  Nick doesn't need glasses.  He just think they make him look smart.

How many dogs do you know that are patient enough to read drivel like that? Nick doesn’t need glasses. He just think they make him look smart.

And now we dance

Like most people around northern Illinois, I am looking out the window at the piles of dirty snow while wishing for warmer weather.  Sustained cold means the snow doesn’t melt, so we have had snow on the ground a good portion of the winter.  Our last significant snow was over three weeks ago and it still whitens our landscape.  My fifteen year old son, Nate, asked me last week when I thought the snow would melt off.

Never, son.

I didn’t say that, but I did not offer any hope that the snow would melt off in time for his high school tennis team to begin practices outside this week.  No Nostrildamus am I, but that prediction was a pretty safe bet.  So far I qualify as a prophet.  I am one for one.

Last night I was pleasantly surprised to see that our weather will be sunny with highs in the forties by tomorrow and into the weekend.  That means only one thing —

I had better shovel the dog poop in the back yard this afternoon, while it is still frozen and hasn’t sunk into the grass.

And now we dance.

Life’s the same…

…except for my shoes.

That is one of my favorite lyrics, one that just turns a little key in my mind, winds me up, and sends me off with cymbals clanking. One might say I am moving in stereo, in tune with a lyric that I love to quote in my blog.  I am comfortable with it.

20150303_082024Speaking of comfortable, I am wearing new shoes today, simple but fresh and new, old style Adidas safely black, and of course they are comfortable.  A part of me wanted to take a chance with my shoe choice but I needed shoes I could wear every day.  Sensible Steve fought with the blue paisley moccasin wearing Steve from the past.  Reality sunk in, telling me that the sensible, low cost shoes were the right ones to buy.  It took four forays out shopping for sensibility to win.

I’m not a shopper.

Nor am I one who fights change in the name of comfort.  I like new things, new ideas, after all in this world we live in one needs to be able to embrace the seemingly constant rush of the latest gadget or social fad.  One must be able to sniff the winds of change in order to survive.  Or so it seems.

Yet I do not like the idea that what is comfortable must also be disposable, replaced and forgotten.  Too quickly it seems that what once a staple of existence is going away.  I fear that is what is happening to the printed word.  Books.  Newspapers.  Soon enough, non-electronic media will be nostalgia.  It’s true that vinyl is making a comeback, something I don’t necessarily care to see (or hear), although there are times when the crackle from a vinyl record is… comforting.

Saturday morning brought below zero temperatures, -11 degrees at 7 AM.  I frowned at my electronic device as I sat at the kitchen table, waiting for my dog to finish his gleeful snow roll in the back yard.  Even Nick couldn’t stand the frigid cold for long, his glistening ice covered muzzle pressed against the glass door a mere minute after I let him out.  There would be no outdoor bicycle ride.  Not even I am that nuts (if so, I am pretty sure I would be experiencing blue ones).  On top of that, I had the headache of the caffeine addict and without a fix existing in the house.  I needed my fix.

Einstein Bagels called my name.  There is a restaurant close to my house, a cozy place where I could continue the agreeable serenity of my morning.  I like their coffee, a nice compliment to a warm asiago bagel with a healthy layer of plain cream cheese slathered over it.  The place was busy with customers, a little worrisome to me, however I was able to find a table in the quietest corner of the restaurant that overlooked the parking lot.

Ahhhhhhh.

20150301_101917That table offered up a bonus — a free Chicago Tribune was spread out in its glory, a large color photo of Derrick Rose greeted me from the sports section.  The sports section, the coveted crown jewel of the newspaper.  My brothers and I used to scramble for the sports section and the comics every morning, as soon as dad released custody to us, each of us leaning over our bowl of crackling Rice Krispies to protect the paper from being desecrated by a stray drip of milk.  Ink and paper were our gold.  Our local newspaper, the Springfield (Illinois)State Journal Register, treated local news with the same reverence provided the national and world news.  In our world, aided by the newspaper, local high school and college athletes were afforded the same status as professional athletes, heroes magnified by the reports we read of them. The Saturday morning sports section was the most coveted, the day where the results of local high school Friday night basketball games were reported.  We depended on the newspaper to bring the world to us.

Dad proudly savored the editorial column written by Toby McDaniel, a family friend.  He and Mom often read Toby’s column together, their appreciation of his knowledge mingled with keen humor expressed warmly.  Reading the newspaper was a family event.  The newspaper was also a source of pride, evidenced by the numerous newspaper clippings my mother has kept in a scrapbook from track meet results I and my brothers appeared in, stories from when basketball teams we played on won a major tournament and made the paper, an announcement from my brother Mark’s piano recital, the award my brother Paul received when his short story won a newspaper contest, the picture of Mark’s home run swing that won a baseball game (such a sweet looking swing), and my proudest — a picture of me with four team mates when the Journal Register featured our track team in the sports section.  Another family friend was a staff photographer, gave us a glossy of the pictures of Mark’s hit and my track team picture.  We were heroes for a time simply because the newpaper made us so.

I enjoyed the comfortable feel of that Chicago Tribune in my hands as I sipped my coffee last Saturday morning.  Once an almost every day thing, I can’t remember the last time I have read a newspaper over breakfast.  There was a warmth to the familiarity that newspaper created, a peace, a credibility that I just don’t find on the internet.  Not any more.

Times have changed and so has the newspaper, a part of my life I hope is never replaced by this changing world.  That is ironic, really, the newspaper one of the sources of that change.  It too, has changed — smaller by necessity of economy, giving in to the electronic media that is perhaps making the paper go away.  Somehow I feel like losing the paper may also mean a part of my comfortable world has also gone away.

May that never happen.

I read the entire sports section, twice.  What a way to spend a Saturday morning.